At a club committee meeting last week, the issue of honorary positions was discussed. Some of the current holders of honorary positions now lived with dementia and the question was asked whether they should perhaps no longer hold those positions. As you may imagine, I stepped in very quickly to point out that those people had been accorded their honours because of their previous work for the club and there was no reason to honour them any less now.

Visiting one of those people in a care home a couple of days later, I told her we’d been discussing all she’d done for the club and how she was the holder of an honour. She was, as ever, very surprised, but really enjoyed hearing about what she’d done and how people had valued that. However, also important to me was that those around her – residents and staff – overheard my description of what she’d previously done and the honour she held.

It’s all too easy for people to overlook the fact that people living with dementia have a whole life story behind them. Knowing about their past can really help other people to understand them now, as well as offering possible topics for pleasant reminiscence. In hospital, staff have very little time to learn about the patient as an individual, so having an easy-reference fact sheet about them as a unique person can help in all sorts of ways. Understanding what makes them happy, sad, afraid, reassured … their usual routine, likes and dislikes … their preferred topics of conversation – all of this provides clues about how to make that person feel safe and calm in hospital, which the person themselves may no longer be able to explain to staff.

It’s no use just having that sheet, though; it needs to be firmly built into the care approach so that all staff become familiar with its existence and where the facts they most need to refer to are to be found. Having the sheet in a drawer won’t help the staff or the patient – and it’ll exasperate the carer who’s lovingly spent time trying to paint a picture of the person they know so well.

For a staff team to build that reference habit into their routine, there needs to be energetic team leadership, so I want to pay tribute here to all those team leaders, at all levels, who ensure that the individuals who come into their care are seen as precisely that – individuals with a unique story, who will do far better if a little bit of time is taken to get to know the essentials about them. 

Thank you, all of you.